Hofu City in Yamaguchi Prefecture flourished during the Edo Period (1600–1868) as a center of salt production. Mazda's Hofu Plant, one of the company's main production facilities, now stands on the site of those vast salt flats. "The vehicles built in Hofu run on the streets in faraway countries. I think that's something to be pleased about," a smiling Kunio Iwamoto says. Senior Director of the Hofu Chamber of Commerce and Industry, Iwamoto has been involved in the Love Hofu Campaign since its inception. When visiting Europe on business, he says he was excited to see Mazda vehicles on the streets and took nothing but photos of vehicles while he was there. Hearing those words, Makoto Nakamura, general manager of the Hofu Plant's General Affairs Department, adds, "it's very gratifying to hear that even people outside the company feel this way."
The Love Hofu Campaign started in the 1980s when the Hofu Plant was built and the entire town began to back the sale of Mazda vehicles. A groundswell of support among the citizens of Hofu further bolstered the campaign, and with the cooperation of everyone in the region, including over 30 local companies, it has now expanded to include a range of initiatives, including festivals, cleanup activities and sports exchanges. One typical event is the Love Hofu Flea Market, which is now one of the largest flea markets in western Japan. It attracts some 130,000 people to the town, which itself only has a population of roughly 120,000.
But this cooperative exchange between Mazda and the local community has not all been smooth sailing. It has now been 29 years since the Hofu Plant was established, and during that time, there have been ups and downs. On occasion, there has even been harsh criticism from people in the region, but the bond has never been completely severed. "As a company, there are some things we can do, and some things we can't do, no matter how hard we try. So we do our best to think of ways we can help. It's important to foster the sort of connection between people that allows us to speak openly to each other," says Nakamura.
In July 2009, there were unprecedented deluges of rain in Hofu which resulted in enormous damage. At the time, the prefectural and municipal governments, the police, and emergency services were overwhelmed and unable to provide assistance to individual households. The Hofu Plant manager went out to survey the situation at the time and immediately decided to mobilize the plant's employees. Working closely with the residents' associations in the city, they went from door to door in an effort to clean up the mud. There were more than a thousand volunteers. According to Nakamura, "the young employees who volunteered spoke enthusiastically about their interactions with older people affected by the flooding. It was a terrific experience for the employees."
Nakamura continues, "this connection with the local community also gives people a personal sense of fulfillment and helps them grow as individuals. I think that when individuals live life to the fullest, that helps to invigorate the local community and the companies that operate there." Kunio Iwamoto agrees: "Through the Love Hofu Campaign, Mazda has transformed its image from 'Mazda—just another corporation' to 'Mazda—a company that really appreciates people.'" Nakamura concludes, "In the future, I'd like both the company and its employees to continue growing together with the surrounding community."